One of the many things I love about a trip to Beijing is the chance to attend a few cookery classes, pick up new recipes and tips and improve techniques under the watchful eye of a professional Chinese chef. This recipe for Gong Bao chicken from my recent visit is so good that I feel like taking to the streets with a placard and megaphone to encourage everyone to try it. It has to be one the tastiest and best value winter warmers around and perfect for the coming cold snap. But first a bit of the back story on the recipe. Continue reading Gong Bao Chicken
I’m in Dubai Airport waiting to board a flight for Beijing. As I sit here between two worlds in the surreal environment that is the transit area of a major international airport, the temperature is a sauna-like 30 degrees at 2 in the morning and a half moon is sitting like a smiley in the sky, glowing red from the dessert sands. In this part of the world I can’t be too far from the old silk road along which travellers took many moons to reach their destination in places like Xinjiang province in remote, northwest China where my daughter in law Shan was born.
Here the camels have been replaced by A380 planes. Big, lumbering beasts of burden that become suddenly graceful when they soar into the air.
Would you look at who’s waiting for me when I get to my destination – Dermot, camping in the living room so that his Nai Nai can take over his room.
Over the next two weeks I will get to spend lots of time with him, Shane, Shan and MaMa. I’m travelling to Beijing to speak at the Beijing Forum at Peking University next weekend but, of course, I’m adding on lots of extra days to have time with them.
I also hope to take some more Chinese cooking lessons, including spending whole days with Shan’s MaMa. She and I don’t yet have language in common but we can communicate through a mutual love of food and cooking. I’ve been thinking about how I can return the favour when she and her sisters in law and nieces visit Ireland for Shane and Shan’s wedding in December.
MaMa enjoyed showing me how to make noodles and dumplings the last time I was in Beijing so I thought that it could be fun to spend a day making pizza with her and the other ladies of the family. Although, come to think of it, with nine Chinese girls and women, ranging from age 3 upwards in our little house in Duncannon, none of whom speak English except Shan, it might have to be a demo rather than a hands on lesson!
Right down to the youngest girl, Chinese women are naturals at working with dough – flatbread, noodles and dumplings get whipped up from scratch every day – but they don’t have access to ovens and don’t use yeast. I think they would love the rhythm of working with yeast dough and stretching it to make a perfect thin, pizza round.
So cue experiment time. What happens if you take a very Italian pizza base, a topping with the flavours of Xinjiang province loved by Shan’s family and a Big Green Egg and put them together? Magic is the answer. Even if cooked outside in the dark in Duncannon, during a lightning storm, on a wild Autumn evening. Continue reading When East Meets West on the Old Silk Road – Lamb and Aubergine Pizza
And hello to all my new subscribers to the blog. I suspect many of you have joined because of my experiments with all-year round barbecuing on the Big Green Egg. Well I’m at the kitchen table in Duncannon at the moment getting excited at the prospect of cooking my first ever pizza on the Egg later today, helped by my Italian friend Solange. On Sunday I’m going to have a trial run at cooking a turkey outdoors, practice for when Dermot’s Chinese family come to stay. About every second weekend I hope to try something new on the Egg, often with an Asian twist, but in between times I will continue my experiments with traditional Chinese recipes. I hope you enjoy both.
Part of my motivation at the moment is a slightly panic stricken planning ahead for my seven Chinese visitors in December – my daughter-in-law Shan’s MaMa and cousin, her bother his wife and child and first auntie and second auntie who will join us to celebrate Christmas and Shane and Shan’s Irish wedding. None of them have been outside China before and they will be relying on me to feed them for most of the two weeks they are here. There will be between 11 and 13 of us at our small kitchen table most evenings and I lie awake at night trying to dream up manageable meals for us all including some western and Chinese specialties. All suggestions and practical tips that don’t involve ordering in a Chinese takeaway are welcome…
Inspiration came in small packages recently when my young Chinese friend Tiedong brought me a gift from his home town of Harbin in north eastern China. Tiedong is studying for a PhD in Dublin and I first met him during the Dublin City Chinese New Year Festival earlier this year. He managed the website for the Taste of China which I helped coordinate. He is one of those very bright Chinese young people who make such a great addition to our increasingly multi-cultural country. He returned home to visit his family during the summer and he brought me back some boxes of Pearl Mountain Edible Black Fungus Block, a foodstuff for which Harbin is famous. It is found in the forests near Harbin where it grows on wood at the base of trees.
I had tasted black fungus in China where it is sometimes known as “wood ear” or “cloud ear”. It is packed full of nutrients and well known for its health giving properties as it is higher in iron content than green leafy vegetables and is also rich in calcium and amino acids. It is particularly good for clearing the lungs . Tiedong tells me that in his home town back in the 1950s barbers ate black fungus very often as it helped clear the dust they breathed in each day. It is also good for the digestion and circulation – in Chinese Traditional Medicine it is regarded as increasing the fluidity of the blood.
Apart from its medicinal properties, black fungus is prized for its crunchy texture and the “mouth feel” it adds to soups and stir-frys. It is purchased dried and, when soaked in water it swells to several times its volume and the dark frilly clumps resemble “ears” or “clouds”. The texture becomes silky, slippery and almost translucent, a bit like sea weed but without the associated flavour. In fact the fungus has no real flavour of its own but it readily absorbs the sauces and seasonings it is cooked with.
I have found black fungus in the Asia Market in Dublin and other Asian supermarkets where it comes in bags like dried Shitake mushrooms and can be reconstituted in warm water in 15 minutes or so. Sometimes the grittier part where it has been attached to the bark of a tree needs to be trimmed away.
The compressed Pearl Mountain variety that Tiedong brought back to me is of the highest quality. It is packaged in little boxes no bigger than a matchbox and Tiedong recommended soaking a portion in lots of luke warm water for a few hours, then rinsing it several times. Once reconstituted it was ready for use without further trimming.
Tiedong gave me the recipe below which is how he prepares it at home. The end result was full of flavour despite involving only a small number of ingredients and being very fast to prepare. We enjoyed the slippery and chewy texture the fungus added to the dish. My niece Jodie decided that it felt a bit like eating balloons, but in a good way! This dish will definitely feature on the menu for my Chinese guests and could be served alongside other spicier dishes as part of a Chinese meal.
Pork with Black Fungus
- 1 compressed black fungus (or a large handful of dried fungus)
- 2 – 3 carrots
- ½ a Chinese cabbage
- 1 pork steak
- 2 – 3 tbs groundnut oil
- A thumb of ginger (about 3 cms)
- 2 – 3 cloves garlic
- Salt to taste
- 1 – 2 tbs light soy sauce
- Soak the compressed black fungus in a large bowl of warm water for several hours until it has puffed up and expanded in volume. Rinse several times under cold water and set aside.
- Slice the carrot at an angle and blanche by plunging in boiled water with a pinch of salt for 5 minutes or by steaming for 2 – 3 mins. Rinse with cold water and set to one side.
- Slice the Chinese cabbage and blanche by plunging in boiled water with a pinch of salt for 5 min or by steaming for 2 – 3 minutes. Rinse with cold water and set to one side.
- Slice the pork steak into 1 cm slices and then, across the grain, into thin strips.
- Heat 2 – 3 tbs groundnut oil in a wok over high heat. Add the pork, then add the ginger and garlic and cook over high heat until the pork has changed colour and the garlic and ginger have softened and released their fragrance.
- Add the carrot and cabbage and stir-fry over high heat until the pork is cooked through.
- Add the black fungus and stir -fry over high heat until heated through.
- Put the lid on for 2 – 3 min, stirring regularly.
- Add a pinch of salt salt and a good dash of soy sauce. Stir until very little juice is left , then taste to adjust seasoning and serve with boiled rice.
Well man and woman cannot live on fried green beans alone so for our second recipe Shan set out to recreate a dish on the lines of the black pepper beef dish we enjoyed so much on our first night in Beijing in the Sichuan restaurant, Yuxiang Kitchen in Lido Square.
The recipe Shan came up with is a little different to the one we had that night but typical of this satisfying and versatile dish.
Black pepper beef (Hei Jiao Niu Liu)
- 2 green peppers (change one of them to green chilli if you like it spicy)
- 1 small onion
- 250 gm fillet beef
- Asparagus (optional)
- Shaoxing rice wine
- Soy sauce
- Oyster sauce
- Ground black pepper (about half a teaspoon or more depending on taste)
- 1 egg
- Half of a green (spring) onion
- Ginger (slice a piece about 0.5 cm from a chunk)
- Clean and dry the beef and cut it into slices, about 3 cm long and 2 cm wide and 0.5cm thick.Put it into a soup dish.
- Cut the green pepper into strips and slice asparagus to similar size; cut the onion to thin slices.
- Chop green onion, garlic and ginger into fine pieces. Separate the egg white and yolk and keep the egg white.
- 1 tbs of rice wine
- Soy sauce
- Oyster sauce
- Egg white
Mix with your hand (to make sure no slice of beef is folded over on itself and you can rub in the flavour better this way) and leave for 5 minutes then drain it.
- Beef: Add oil in wok and put beef in when oil is hot; stir fry beef for about 2-3 minutes till you see the colour of beef change to dark brownish (it should be cooked already), turn the stove off and take the beef out.
- Vegetables: Clean the wok and add 2 tbs of fresh oil (you don’t want vegetables to look brown), put finely chopped green onion, ginger and garlic in; stir fry for about 30 seconds or until you can smell the scent of garlic; put sliced onions in and stir fry for another 30 seconds; then add green pepper strips and asparagus slices in; add some salt and stir fry for about 1 minute, then put beef and ground pepper in and stir fry for 2-3 minutes.
See my first attempt at cooking this delicious recipe at Dishing up the beef.
I tried this again on 15th September 2012 when I had become a bit more familiar with Chinese cooking.
This time I had only strips of sirloin beef and no onion so I substituted half a leek thinly sliced for the onion and I used one green pepper, one red pepper and a green chilli.
I used light soy sauce in the marinade but I added an extra dash of soy sauce and oyster sure just before serving to darken the colour a bit.
That’s the joy of this dish – you can play around with the ingredients. All my lovely fresh vegetables came from Shankill Market Fresh, a great local shop based at the Barbecue Centre in Shankill, Dublin
The finished dish was very tasty and fast and easy to produce. A grand easy dinner for a Saturday night in and goes well with Gavi di Gavi wine 🙂